Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. knows how to sculpt a strong, striking core—and he has the six-pack to prove it. One of his favourite ab exercises isn’t as commonly used in general training as it might be, so he makes the case for cable crunches here.
Eb says: Planks, hollow rocks, and stability moves are tremendous for your core (and they’re the backbone of most of my ab training). But if you want to build a noticeable six-pack, at some point, you need to pit your core against resistance to spark some hypertrophy directly in the rectus abdominus. There’s an over-assumption today that dropping body fat is the sole key to a noticeable six-pack; that’s true, but having some depth to your abs helps as well.
One movement that allows you to create abdominal hypertrophy is the cable crunch, an old-school bodybuilder move that’s the basis of this ab circuit. It’s a move that’ll let you directly load your rectus abdominus. Do this workout correctly and you’ll exit with a very deep abdominal burn and hone the muscles that help create a six-pack with visual impact.
A few keys on the cable crunch. Note the back position. In most exercises, we’re preaching scapular retraction, a squeezing of the shoulder blades that’s great for posture. On the cable crunch you actually need to protract though. Think about spreading your lats wide and thin, and allowing your entire torso to roll forward. This obviously isn’t good posture, but it places you in proper position to do the move; you simply can’t crunch and contract your abs to the extent needed in a cable crunch if you’re trying to squeeze your shoulder blades. For this exercise, let everything come forward.
The other key: Finding the right thigh angle. You want your thighs very close to a perpendicular angle with the ground, perhaps a degree or two backwards, at most. Too far forward, and the sheer momentum of forward torso lean assists you in dropping into the crunch. Too far backward, and your hamstrings assist the movement as well.
Crunch down and drive your elbows to your knees; letting your spine flex. Spinal flexion gets a bad rap these days, but there’s a reason your spine is capable of flexion. In this situation, it’s not spinal flexion under load, either (as it is in a poor deadlift), and it’s a controlled, slow spinal flexion, so you don’t need to worry unless you have a history of back issues (in which case you shouldn’t be doing this move).
You can use a cable tower with a rope attachment to perform the exercise, but in this version we’re working with an exercise band.
- Attach the band to an anchor above you, like a pullup bar.
- Kneel down on the ground with your thighs perpendicular to the ground. Hold the end of the band on either side of your head at about ear-level.
- Flex your abs to hinge at the hips, pulling your elbows down to your knees. Rotate slightly to touch your left elbow to the right knee.
- Hold for 1 count, then rise up, keeping the hips stable.
- Repeat, this time touching your right elbow to left knee.
- For the next set of reps, add 1 second to the hold at the bottom. Continue up to 5-second holds.
We’re adding a (literal) twist to the cable crunch here too in that you’ll go from that standard rep to a rep with a more oblique focus. Think about letting this twist start just below your chest; that’ll help you keep your hips square as you twist and keep the focus entirely on the six-pack we’re trying to build. Remember, the entire value of the cable crunch is in its ability to produce abdominal hypertrophy, so loading with weight has virtue…and so does loading with time under tension.
Just make sure that you don’t go overboard with the cable crunches. Perform this move, at most, twice a week. That’s a departure from more stability-driven core moves, which can be done daily because that stability is should be present in all regular human movement. This, however, is a hypertrophy move, so your abs need time to recover (and grow) from it.
To add the cable crunch countup to your workout, try 3 sets working up to 5-second holds.
By Brett Williams and Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S.